Abdominal migraine involves a painful ache in your abdomen. Effective treatments are available.

For many people, pulsating pain on one side of the head is a common symptom of migraine. You may have experienced similar pain in your abdomen, leading you to wonder if this is connected to a migraine.

Abdominal migraine involves severe pain in the abdomen (stomach) plus nausea or vomiting. It’s more common in children. The medical community does not yet fully understand the condition.

Abdominal migraine can disrupt your daily activities. There are various effective treatment options to manage abdominal migraine.

Abdominal migraine is a type of migraine.

The symptoms of abdominal migraine include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • pale or flushed skin
  • cramps

Instead of feeling pressure or sharp pain in your head, you may feel your belly ache in a similar way. Symptoms of abdominal migraine may appear suddenly and vary in how long they last.

According to a 2018 study, the average age for a child to be diagnosed with abdominal migraine is between 3 and 10. A 2016 study says that abdominal migraine is relatively common, affecting up to 4% of children.

Abdominal migraine is primarily diagnosed in children but can also affect adults.

If your child is experiencing abdominal migraine, they are likely to outgrow them. But abdominal migraine in childhood may predict migraine in adulthood.

Experts believe that abdominal migraine and migraine headaches are brought on by similar factors.

According to a 2020 study, some experts believe that gut disorders like abdominal migraine are caused by:

  • A hypersensitive gut-brain connection: Differences in the action of neurotransmitters that affect gut sensation and function (such as serotonin) may contribute to abdominal pain attacks.
  • Slower gut movements: Some research suggests that children with abdominal migraine had slower stomach emptying times.
  • Psychological factors: Children with gut disorders are more likely to have anxiety and depression. Further, risk factors for recurring abdominal pain include stressful events and trauma, such as abuse.

While a typical stomach ache is caused by a virus, such as gastroenteritis or stomach flu, the exact cause of abdominal headache remains unknown.

It can be difficult for you or your child to distinguish between an abdominal migraine and stomach aches from other causes because the symptoms can be very similar.

But experts recognize that the length varies. While a stomach bug will typically pass through your body in 24-48 hours, abdominal migraine may last 2 to 72 hours. Abdominal migraine also tends to be chronic and recurring.

Another difference from stomach bugs is that abdominal migraine tends to have a genetic component. Doctors will often ask if anyone in your family experiences migraine when making a diagnosis.

As for distinguishing differences between abdominal migraine and a typical migraine attack, the significant difference is that your abdominal migraine doesn’t come with head pain or headaches.

Sometimes the best form of treatment is careful prevention. The best treatment for abdominal migraine is to:

  • Make sensible lifestyle modifications.
  • Initiate the appropriate preventive treatments. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, are commonly used as a preventive method for kids with abdominal migraine.
  • Receive treatment from a headache specialist as needed.

A 2018 study suggests a few options for preventing symptoms in children, such as:

Migraine medication is another treatment option. A doctor may prescribe:

  • triptans
  • anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen
  • anti-nausea medication

It’s important to check with a trusted medical professional before seeking out medications for your abdominal migraine, especially when treating children.

When to talk with a medical professional

“If the abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting become a regular occurrence, it is important to seek expert medical advice,” says Krista Elkins, a paramedic and registered nurse.

“Doctors will be able to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.”

Tracking and avoiding triggers can help you prevent or treat abdominal migraine. You can speak with a doctor or pediatrician about possible treatments if this does not prove effective.

If you’re looking for more resources and information on the overlap between your digestive health and mental health, consider looking into how gut health may affect your mental health and overall well-being.

While unpleasant, you can consider different prevention and treatment options to help you manage migraine.